Becoming part of “something bigger than myself”

Khadjah Williams and her sister, Vivica

Khadjah Williams and her sister, Vivica

It was the song “Fill a Heart” Tori Kelly wrote for the campaign Child Hunger Ends Here that inspired the Williams sisters, Khadjah and Vivica, to volunteer nearly all their spare time at the Jacksonville’s Feeding Northeast Florida warehouse on Edgewood Avenue North.

“I was looking on the internet for different ways to contribute to the community. I was listening to a song Tori Kelly had written about food banks and was looking for different food banks in Jacksonville,” said Khadjah,

“I like this place because it impacts the community in more ways than I could ever think of. My being here is helping other people to get food,” said Vivica.

“The point was to volunteer,” Khadjah said. “We like it here. We like the people. So we stayed. When we were just sorting meat, I thought, ‘we’re doing this, but we don’t get to see what is really going on.’ We didn’t at first see the impact of what was being done. But going to the church and seeing that the meat being given away was from here, and that this played a part in somebody eating, I felt like, okay, I want to stay here because I know this is doing the same thing.”

And stay they did. Both homeschooled, the girls began volunteering in February 2016 just after graduating with their GEDs. They now attend Florida State College – Northside, and spend most of their extra time pulling orders, sorting food into categories after it arrives from Publix and Winn-Dixie, weighing and putting food away in the warehouse. Vivica also instructs volunteer groups in what they need to do.

Since they began at Feeding Northeast Florida, the sisters have each logged more than 1,500 volunteer hours. The more hours the better, as far as Vivica is concerned. “I want to transfer to Florida International University (FIU), where I can earn a bachelor’s in psychology,” said the 17-year-old, noting FIU has a program that provides $4 of tuition money for every volunteer hour.

Khadjah, 18, is a sociology major who hopes to eventually transfer to University of Central Florida or the University of Alabama. She said working at Feeding Northeast Florida has changed her life and her career path.

“I wanted to do so many things when I was growing up. This has solidified what I want to do. I want to have some sort of impact on my community and on people in general. Being able to provide for someone else’s need or helping to be a stepping stone to where they need to get to in life is what I want to do.”

Both girls said serving at Feeding Northeast Florida has taught surprising lessons.

“I learned about food basics, and that not everything you think is bad is actually bad,” said Vivica. “I also learned the simplest things can go a long way, and that you might not think what you are doing is having an impact on people when it is actually having a huge impact,” she said adding that so many people in Jacksonville are hungry.

“We have people who come in and ask for food. I was surprised to see how many agencies and people are willing to take time out to help other people. It’s good to know people actually care about whether someone eats and how someone feels,” she continued. “A man walked in once with three kids. He had a place to stay, but he didn’t have the money for food, and it was touching to think that with our help his life could be made so much better.”

Khadjah agreed. Working at Feeding Northeast Florida has helped her realize how vast the hunger problem is in Jacksonville, she said.

“A lot of times you think it’s people on the corner sitting down in the street. Homeless people. But it could be people you are walking next to or your neighbor who you might not know needs food,” she said. Alleviating hunger can solve a lot of different problems, she continued, noting hungry people often neglect other areas of their lives. “A lot of people ask for money so they can buy food instead of applying for a job or going for an interview. They can’t think of these things because they are thinking about the fastest way they can satisfy their need for food,” she said.

“Working here makes me feel like I’m a part of something bigger than myself. That’s why I wanted to volunteer,” said Khadjah.